Penned by Richard Hellesen, EISENHOWER tells the story of the thirty-fourth President of the U.S. Eisenhower was born in 1890, rose from simple mid-Western roots to become a 5-Star General and leader of the Allied Expeditionary Forces for the European Theater and North Africa in World War II, later helmed the future of hundreds of young people as President of Columbia University, and, finally, was elected POTUS between 1953 and 1961 to become Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military forces. Skillfully directed by Peter Ellenstein, EISENHOWER tells this titan’s story in a production doubling as a learning experience and a tribute to one of America’s great leaders. EISENHOWER showcases a tour-de-force performance by the talented John Rubinstein – who, by the way, admitted that memorizing the lines for a two-act solo play was a monumental job. In 2022, Theatre West proudly presents the world premiere of EISENHOWER.
This play is fictionalized, set in a specific point in time, and adapted from a range of General Eisenhower’s memoirs, speeches, and letters, as well as the assistance of David Eisenhower and the Eisenhower family and information from the Eisenhower Presidential Library and museum. EISENHOWER is set in 1962 on Eisenhower’s farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and opens with Dwight David Eisenhower ruminating about his presidency – and exactly why a select set of major historians has rated his years in the White House as only Number 22 out of 34. But one thing leads to another – and soon Eisenhower recalls his early life in Abilene, Kansas, with his parents and seven brothers, his entry into West Point, his years in the military spanning 1916 to 1952, and his years as President.
Director Peter Ellenstein, who lived in rural Kansas, admitted that he knew almost nothing about Eisenhower except that Eisenhower had been President and that his parents voted against him. From this lack of information grew a keen curiosity about Eisenhower as he began “a voyage of discovery into one of the most fascinating and important people in American history…(whose) life and career were packed with so many world-altering events that I didn’t know where to start.”
From this inauspicious beginning – and lots and lots of penetrating research – author Richard Hellesen fashioned a tale for all Americans. Surprisingly, Eisenhower, a man who spent most of his life in the military, hated war: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” And yet he excelled as a leader: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” In terms of the Presidency, Eisenhower was certainly a reluctant politician; but, at the same time, a man who knew that political leadership was the backbone of the American way of life: “Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.” And yet Eisenhower had a definite opinion about seeking the presidency: “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” Some of Eisenhower’s observations almost seem prophetic today: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” In fact, many of his statements appear to echo the current political arena – and proved to be very funny indeed. As a centrist, Eisenhower also opined that “I despise people who go to the gutter on either the right or the left and hurl rocks at those in the center.”
EISENHOWER is the fascinating study of a man with multiple talents; and it will prove enlightening – and often amusing – to today’s audiences. For fans of history (military, political), this is a must-see. At the same time, it is a fascinating study of one man which should appeal to most of us. By the way, Eisenhower’s anger over being Number 22 would surely have dissipated had he not died in 1969. Most recently, his star has been elevated to Number 5 of all U.S. Presidents.
EISENHOWER RUNS THROUGH November 20, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Theatre West is located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles, CA 90068. Tickets are $40 (students/seniors/military veterans $30). For information and reservations, go online at www.theatrewest.org or www.newlarep.org.